In recent decades, there has been a meaningful change in the diversity composition within public administrations. The election of President Obama in 2008 showed that minorities can hold public office and have a tremendous impact. Factors such as globalization, immigration, biracial and interracial family unions demonstrate that demographics and expectations are rapidly changing as society and culture evolve. Diversity is no longer measured in just color and race, religion, education, ethnicity, language, and other characteristics play a crucial role. Managing diversity should be defined and implemented within the context of modern society as it increases the productive capacity of public organizations to the populations they serve.
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Definition and Practice
Diversity in public administration is a factor that is inherently responsive to social change. The literature on the topic focuses on implementing diversity in organizations to accommodate demographical shifts in the U.S. population as well as a changing workforce composition that includes more women and minorities, while the number of aging baby boomers increases. Furthermore, there are dynamic social attitudes towards policies such as affirmative action. Overall, the cultural and ethnic identification of public service users is more diverse along with the affected population segments (Rice 1).
A theory closely intertwined with diversity is social equity. Within a new public administration concept, social equity is concerned with promoting equality in government and the services it provides. This is done by establishing a higher level of responsibility of the government before its citizens for any policy decisions, many of which directly or indirectly impact minorities. Workplace diversity should be supported. It is commonly perceived to mean that hiring more women and minorities is the best outcome. While it is an important step, a diverse population within an organization does not always result in the achievement of social equity. Organizational culture should include these outlier groups in the decision-making process to foster growth. There is an inherent difference between assimilation and inclusion (Krejci). Social equity is established through inclusion only since assimilation most often results in a groupthink mentality that lacks consideration for minority opinions.
Implementing diversity management in practice is challenging as it must balance positive social effects with negative impacts that may arise as a result of intergroup bias. However, diversity has been shown to improve employee outcomes. Diversity management includes the use of policies, programs, and managerial oversight to focus on diversity within the workforce. It consists of making modifications or organizational practices as well as create an environment of inclusion. In a way, diversity management is similar to and interconnected with policies of equal employment and affirmative action. However, these create numerical targets for minority hires within various levels of administration without addressing the cultural differences of daily practice. Diversity management can be implemented through:
- Selection of talented individuals from minority groups that are difficult to find through traditional recruitment techniques;
- Bridging cultural groups and reducing intergroup bias by identifying and promoting the added value of a multicultural workforce that can offer unique skills and perspectives;
- Implementation of policy and program instruments that are effective at diversity management through legal and administrative means (Ashikali and Groeneveld 149).
Performance and Outcomes
The central goal of diversity management is “directing the work of a racially and cultural heterogeneous group of employees to bring a more varied set of perspective to organizational problems” (Shafritz et al. 482). As a result, there is increased productivity within the organization. The diversity of the workforce built on inclusion has been established as a contributing force to innovation, performance, and even trust from the population in public institutions. In the private sector, diversity management is used to create a culture that fosters creativity and critical thinking. If a member of the a has commonalities with end-users of the product or service, they can better understand their needs. When applied to public administration, a diversified representation in the public sector can help adapt better services to more segments of society. Furthermore, it sends a message of inclusion that takes into account citizen concerns in developing policies and programs to meet population needs (“Managing a Diverse Public Administration”).
It is important to note that diversity can have both positive and negative outcomes for employees. The work-group diversity inherently impacts results beginning with individuals and ending with the administration as a whole. Mediating variables can have lead to four types of short-term consequences: affective, symbolic, cognitive, and communicative. Positive aspects include enhancement in decision-making and increased creativity of solutions by including diverse perspectives. A major negative outcome is a decreased group identification which can lead to lower employee satisfaction and retention (Ashikali and Groeneveld 148).
Scholars have emphasized the importance of supporting any diversity practices with a theoretical framework. This approach allows improving accuracy, decision-making, and structure which can help to comprehensively understand the various relationships and effects of diversity management practices. It can help to identify and tailor any policies to fit within the public administration culture and needs. This fits into the theoretical contingency view of organizations. It states that any organization is a system that consists of subsystems affected by environmental boundaries. The contingency theory attempts to study the relationship and patterns amongst the subsystems and environment, as well as how the configuration of variables impacts the patterns of function in an organization as a whole (McGrandle 529).
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The contingency theory suggests there is no one optimal way of managing organizations, suggesting a generalized approach is ineffective and ignores unique characteristics. It fits within the current trend of modifying public organizations to fit the individual environments, culture, and member needs. Since bureaucracies are rarely unitary and interventions are most efficient when matched to address unique organizational change problems, this approach has potential in the implementation of diversity management policies in public administration. Factors for consideration can include legislative history, workforce composition, and objectives of the administration (business or social development). Short-term and long-term goals help shape successful policy. Therefore, diversity management on a theoretical level should be unique based on the population and structure that considers social, economic, and moral factors which would be reflective of the administration (McGrandle 535).
Diversity management is undoubtedly a theoretical knowledge base and skill set which requires in-depth research for success. It can be passed down to future administration through the promotion of the concept in education. Often, public administration is concentrated on specialization rather than a comprehensive overview of issues such as diversity and how it interconnects with organizational function. Diversity management provides an opportunity to investigate the current societal structures and classifications. Ethnic diversity and individual differences can then be examined through interaction in the dynamic social context.
Ashikali, Tanachia, and Sandra Groeneveld. “Diversity Management in Public Organizations and Its Effect on Employees’ Affective Commitment: The Role of Transformational Leadership and the Inclusiveness of the Organizational Culture.” Review of Public Personnel Administration, vol. 35, no. 2, 2015, pp. 146-168.
Krejci, Dan. “Developing Leaders in the Public Sector: Diversity in the Workplace and Social Equity.” PA Times. 2014, Web.
“Managing a Diverse Public Administration or Effectively Responding to the Needs of a More Diverse Workforce / OECD Survey.” EUPAN, Web.
McGrandle, Jocelyn. “Understanding Diversity Management in the Public Sector: A Case for Contingency Theory.” International Journal of Public Administration, vol. 40, no. 6, 2017, pp. 526-537.
Rice, Mitchell F. “Review of Diversity and Public Administration: Theory, Issues, and Perspectives, 2nd ed.” Journal of Public Affairs Education, vol. 16, no. 4, 2010, pp. 659-664.
Shafritz, Jay, et al. Introducing Public Administration. 9th ed., Pearson, 2013.